Plainfield woman turns to Instagram for weight loss tips

Leanne is losing it

PLAINFIELD (WTHR) - A Plainfield wife and mother of two has lost nearly 165 pounds and more than 93,000 people are following her transformation on Instagram.

LeAnne Manuel used to weigh 400 pounds.

"One of the triggers that started my journey is I graduated from Ivy Tech in December of 2014. I bought my graduation gown and it came to my house and I couldn't wear it" Manuel said.

She went to school as an adult and walking in the ceremony with her classmates was a milestone moment she didn't want to miss. She ordered a custom-made gown and went to graduation vowing, "NEVER again!"

"It was really one of those moments that really put everything into motion that...I had to change because, I didn't want to face that again," Manuel said.

To get started, Manuel started searching Instagram for weight loss tips.

"I started looking for hashtags for low carbohydrate recipes to get meal ideas for our family. I started seeing different accounts and how they were doing and holding themselves accountable with posting their meals and workouts and with their transformation and I said, 'I am going to do this'," Manuel said.

At the time she had 33 followers. She changed the name of her account to "LeAnneIsLosingIt" and started posting meal plans, workouts and pictures of herself. The more weight she lost, the more dramatic the photos and more people started to follow her. Right now, "LeAnneIsLosingit" has double the Instagram following of singer Josh Kaufman and thousands more than Olympic Champion diver David Boudia.

"I posted before and after pictures, even in the very beginning when I lost just 30 pounds or even less than that to compare the differences. Slowly, people started to follow me. I was following them too and getting inspiration and getting all their hashtags and seeing what they have to say. It's been a great opportunity to meet people all over the country that are fighting for the same things," Manuel said. "I'm six feet tall. In my everyday life, I don't meet people like me that have 100, 150-plus pounds to lose. Online, I found people that understand what it's like to be over 300 pounds since you were 11 or 12 years old."

Her formula is simple. Manuel plans, a week in advance, protein-rich, portion-controlled meals and when she will workout.

"We spend an average of $110 a week for groceries for a family of four. We pay $10 a month to the gym. I can go there every day of the week to get what I need to get done," Manuel said.

Manuel says she feels dramatically better physically, mentally and emotionally and that is what she wants for her followers.

"It's not expensive to lose weight, you just have to try. It's expensive to eat out every day. It's expensive to pay the medical bills from health problems that you get from being overweight. Before I lost weight, I took medicine for high blood sugar and high blood pressure and now I don't have that expense. I don't have to go to the doctor every three months for blood work. Now, I go once a year," Manuel said.

Mom as a model

Manuel realized when she modified her diet and increased her exercise, her family did, too. The family got off the couch and started heading to the gym at night and hiking together on weekends. Her wife Michelle has lost 105 pounds, daughter Hannah joined the cross country team and uses a fitness tracker to compete with her parents. Hunter, 6, is on the baseball team and says he no longer feels "chubby."

"I didn't want my kids to have to go through what I did. I didn't want my kids to feel like an outsider because their weight limited them," Manuel said.

Stopping scams and silencing critics

The family has learned there are setback to becoming a public figure. Manuel says she added a watermark to her images to prohibit weight loss companies from fraudulently using her picture to make false claims she lost all the weight on their program. Fake Instagram accounts emerged, trying to capitalize on her popularity by featuring her misspelled name. Manuel says many companies have called pursuing endorsements.

"I don't even answer emails for a lot of companies because I look at their stuff and see this brand only goes up to a size large. I know that that isolates people, just like it used to isolate me," Manuel said.

A consequence of her weight loss was excessive skin. Manuel had the skin removed from her abdomen through surgery at Hendricks Regional Health. She posted those pictures, too, and ignores critical comments.

"A common one will be, 'You are just still fat, so I don't even know why you are trying.' That is a common thing people will say," Manuel said.

After two years, Manuel is 35 pounds from her goal weight and knows a global following will keep her accountable.

"I want people to know that anybody can do this and if they want to change their life, it really will change every aspect of your life," Manuel said.

On May 6, Manuel plans to skip the graduation ceremony when she earns bachelors in Business Administration from Ball State. Instead, look for her wearing a graduation gown in WTHR's live coverage of the 2017 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon. She's competing in the race and serving as one of 13 ambassadors.

This time, her large-sized gown is a perfect fit.